David Cameron today ordered two major inquiries into claims that a paedophile ring – said to include a former prominent Conservative politician – operated in North Wales for more than a decade.
The Prime Minister interrupted a trip to the Gulf to announce that a “senior independent figure” would lead a new investigation into allegations of child abuse in care homes in the 1970s and 1980s.
It will focus on accusations that a previous inquiry, which sat between 1996 and 2000, only uncovered a fraction of the abuse.
Mr Cameron, speaking in Abu Dhabi, said the new probe would examine whether the original Waterhouse inquiry was “properly constituted and properly did its job”. He said: “Child abuse is an absolutely hateful and abhorrent crime and these allegations are truly dreadful and they must not be left hanging in the air.”
The Home Office is separately preparing to examine why accusations of abuse were not pursued more vigorously at the time by police.
David Jones, the Welsh Secretary, will tomorrow meet Steve Messham, who claimed on BBC2’s Newsnight that he was repeatedly abused by a leading figure from the Thatcher era. The man denies the claims and has threatened to sue if he is named.
Mr Messham, one of hundreds of children believed to have been abused, had requested a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the allegations.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, held urgent talks with Whitehall departments, including the Home Office and the Welsh Office, today to decide the terms of the inquiry, which is likely to be headed by an experienced judge. Witnesses could include the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who was Welsh Secretary from 1995 to 1997.
Talks will also be held with the Welsh Government, although the alleged offences occurred before devolution.
Mr Cameron’s official spokesman he was taking a close interest in the claims and added: “The Prime Minister is very keen to ensure that everything is looked at properly and fully, that no stone is left unturned.”
Downing Street announced the moves after Mr Messham tweeted that his claims had not been taken seriously by the Government. He wrote: “North Wales Police knew years before the Waterhouse inquiry and Downing Street tell us to go back to them.”
The Welsh Secretary will discuss the concerns Mr Messham raised on Newsnight. Mr Jones said: “I am grateful that Mr Messham has come forward and I look forward to meeting him.
Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, will also meet Mr Towler to discuss calls for a fresh public inquiry.
The Waterhouse Inquiry identified 28 alleged perpetrators but they were never identified in public. Mr Towler believes that powerful establishment figures prevented the abuse becoming public.
The Commissioner said Sir Ronald Waterhouse’s inquiry may have been compromised by his terms of reference limiting “what he was able to look at and what he wasn't able to look at.”
Carwyn Jones said he had requested “urgent advice” on the original remit of the Waterhouse Inquiry, to help him determine whether a further investigation is needed.
He said: “Serious allegations about child abuse in North Wales during the 1970s and 80s have been made in the media over the weekend, and calls have been made for a fresh inquiry. The Welsh Government takes these allegations very seriously.”
“In the first instance, victims of abuse who feel that the abuse they suffered was not investigated properly should report their cases to the police.”
There has been speculation that an MP may use Parliamentary privilege to name the Conservative politician. Mark Stephens, the lawyer who represented a number of children at the Waterhouse Inquiry, said: “I am convinced parliamentary privilege will be used to ask a question as to why this high-ranking politician who was named by a victim in the north Wales child abuse inquiry has been afforded protection.”
The Children's Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, has backed calls for a new inquiry into the abuse of children at care homes in north Wales.